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How My Shallow Vulnerability Turned INto Love By Sally Stroud

I am consistently overwhelmed by the love I’ve received this year. The other week at roundtable, we were having a “check-in.” This is where we check-in with Theresa and talk about how the program is treating us. I remember saying something like this: “I knew I would think you guys were okay people. But, I wasn’t expecting on gaining eight new best friends. Eight, nine including Mama T, who I know I can call at two in the morning when I can’t move or trust or feel. Eight people who are friends for life. Who have listened to my shambly, broken, and inconsistant story, and loved me just the same.”

 

As a child of church and youth groups, I’ve always heard the word vulnerability. I’ve often thought I’ve lived it. As a person who is not afraid to share her feelings, I thought I was actually pretty good at vulnerability. I’d share my story and feel good about it. I gave myself a gold star because I thought I’d done the right thing by simply sharing my shame. Turns out, I was only scraping the surface of the scars on my heart.

 

If you’ve heard of Brene Brown, I’m sure you’ve heard this quote. “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.” I had not heard this until this year. Every time I read it I get choked up. I get this way because I think of my story. My broken, often shame-filled story. I think of how every single one of my fellow Fellows have listened to my story.

 

Not only have they listened, but they’ve loved. They’ve looked on me with empathy and understanding. Hugged me, held me, cried with me, and never, ever, shamed me. This year, I’ve come to learn that vulnerability is so much more than being willing to share your story. Vulnerability is a two way street. It only works when you have people on the other side of your story willing to empathize and love you. It only works when you share your deep, dark, cellar-heart secrets, not in hopes that people will respect or revere you, but in the hope that they’ll love you. That they will straight up love the shame right out of your heart. That is what these eight people have done for me this year.

 

I had people in my childhood willing to love me, but I didn’t listen to them. I let my shame take over. I let myself believe I was not enough. Not pretty enough, skinny enough or holy enough. These eight people affirm these things about me every day. They listen to my doubts and reply with affirmations. As someone who has the love language of words of affirmation, this is a huge deal. I now have eight (nine including our Mama T) friends who have showed me what true vulnerability looks like. It looks like this picture taken by our own Jillian Runser.

 


It looks like nine people, sitting around a circle sharing food, jokes, and laughter. It happens when I’m not afraid to wear my pj’s to roundtable. It happens when I feel so loved and affirmed by friends, that I am not afraid to share what shame I feel. I know that my fellows will receive it with love and empathy. It happens when nine people from all over the country come together and without fear of shame, share their hearts and get love in return. It only happens when we are willing to look at the Father’s love for us. It happens when I pour out our inner most secrets to those who are staring at the Father and now see me through His eyes.

 

I have nine people now. Nine friends I can tell anything to. Nine friends who make me laugh when I want to cry, run when I want to fall, and pray when I want to curse. I have nine friends who have shown me that being vulnerable isn’t about making me feel good. It’s about making me see who I am in Christ. Making me see that He has taken my shame away. So, Theresa, Andy, Sara, Emily, Mary, Lauren, Ali, Jill, and Charlie. Thank you. Thank you for a sensational Fellows year. Here’s to us. Here’s to us, pouring out our shame and watching it disappear through God’s grace.

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Kyrie Eleison by Theresa Wilson

                                Nashville Fellows at St. George's Episcopal Church's Maundy Thursday service

                                Nashville Fellows at St. George's Episcopal Church's Maundy Thursday service

Each year during the spring semester, we study a theology of Sabbath with our Fellows. Sarah Puryear spent two class sessions with our Fellows in February, teaching on Sabbath rest using authors such as Norman Wirzba, Eugene Peterson, Wendell Berry, and Lauren Winner. It was a powerful time to reflect on our own patterns of rest (or lack thereof), and since Lent was just around the corner, we challenged the Fellows to incorporate a pattern of rest into their weekly routine throughout Lent. I also took up the challenge and decided to read a devotional called Bread and Wine as part of my journey into regular rhythms of rest and reflection. I had no idea how this devotional would change my view of myself and God throughout the Lenten season.

As I read through the book, the authors invited me to walk with Christ through his temptation, Passion, and crucifixion. It was an invitation to look at my own sin and realize my role in the crucifixion of Christ. I've always found the crucifixion accounts in the Gospels to be so uncomfortable... so hard to read. I've also always let myself get away with that, to some extent, until now. One of the contributors to the devotional, Fleming Rutledge, told the story of a woman who, when her church had the congregation participate in a dramatic reading of the Passion account by having them play the role of the crowd that shouts that they want Jesus crucified, commented to Fleming that she could not bring herself to shout, "Crucify him!" She was convinced that she could not say such an awful thing. Fleming wrote, "I have often thought, since, how terribly sad that was. In her stubborn blindness, [this woman] could not identify herself as a sinner like all the rest of us." Wow, a dagger to my heart. I began to allow myself to ruminate on the cross and my sin more fully than I have before.

I then came across one of the most powerful devotionals to me in this same book. Entitled "The Cross and the Cellar," Morton T. Kelsey talks of the cellar in each of us. He says, "Each of us has underneath our ordinary personality, which we show to the public, a cellar in which we hide the refuse and rubbish which we would rather not see ourselves or let others see." He reminds us that those running concentration camps in Germany were formerly peace-loving citizens, well educated and thoughtful. Until the beasts in each of them were released. Kelsey writes,

I do not like to stop and, in the silence, look within, but when I do I hear a pounding on the floor of my soul. When I open the trap door into the deep darkness I see the monsters... There emerges the sheer mindless destructive brutality of the Frankenstein monster, and next the deft and skilled Aztec priest sacrificing his victim. Then I see the image of the slave trader with his whips and chains... and then the accuser crying at me with a condemning voice.

Thankfully, though, Kelsey does not leave us languishing in the cellar. He ends by saying, "This confrontation often leads us into the pit. The empty cross is planted there to remind us that suffering is real but not the end, that victory still is possible..."

And here,  my friends, is the beauty of what I reflected on during Lent this year. As I looked on my utter depravity, I did not feel farther away from God but closer. I did not feel God's condemnation but rather his love, more strongly than I have felt it in a long time! The cross of Christ is the ultimate sacrifice of love, and therefore my sin and God's love for me are forever intertwined in the act of Christ on the cross. What a strange mixture of grief and peace, of loss and life, all at once.

I will admit - it is easier for me to dwell in sadness and a bit of hopelessness these days, given the hurt in our world currently. But to feel deep sadness without hope is to lose sight of the power of the cross. It is to not truly believe what Christ did for us. Doubt is a part of our journey, to be sure, but what a beautiful thing to know that it is precisely in moments of deep darkness that the work of the cross of Christ shines brightest. To this hope I cling!

Each year our Fellows attend St. George's Maundy Thursday service, and it is such a powerful visual reminder of what Christ did for us. One of the songs the choir sang was Ubi Caritas. I'll leave you with the words of this song below, but let me preface it by saying that one of the greatest sources of hope for me amidst the darkness in our world is seeing the Body of Christ come together in unity. One of the reasons I was drawn to working with the Nashville Fellows Program was because of its ecumenical commitment. I truly believe that now is a critical time in history for the Church to show the world a better way forward. A way that is characterized by love and unity instead of fear and division. The words to this song reminded me again of the hope that springs forth from unity in Christ's Body:

Where charity and love are, God is there. / Christ's love has gathered us into one. / Let us rejoice and be pleased in him. / Let us fear, and let us love the living God. / And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are, God is there. / As we are gathered into one body, / Beware, lest we be divided in mind. / Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease, / And may Christ our God be in our midst.

Where charity and love are, God is there. / And may we with the saints also, / See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God: / The joy that is immense and good, / Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

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Quiet in the storm: finding rest in the uncertainty by Mary Owens

 

Psalm 37

3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

 

 

April, the month when things start getting real in the Fellows world.  It’s that time of the year when graduation starts slowly but surely creeping up on us.  It feels like every conversation starts with one of these ever dreaded questions: So, what are you doing after Fellows? Where are you gonna live?  Where are you gonna work?  Are you staying in Nashville?  Have you figured out what you want to do with your life yet?  

As exciting/scary it is to think about all of these things, I find myself becoming consumed with the future, with figuring out the answers to all of these questions right now.  Completely forgetting that I am not the one in control, and forgetting to soak in the sweetness of the season I am currently in.  I am so consumed by the future that I am forgetting the present.

In life there is always something to look forward to, to put our hope in.  When I get that promotion then I will feel settled.  When I get finished with school, then I’ll be set.  When I move into that new house, then everything will be perfect.  In our most recent mentor brunch our leader shared with us that there will be many crossroads in our lives.  Many times our future isn’t spelled out and put in front of us in a pretty package.  There will be many more times that we will have to trust that the Lord will provide for our needs.  We have many big decisions ahead of us to make, and many more obstacles to overcome.  

In the midst of chaos, and a million things still left to figure out, today I choose to stop and be thankful.  I will relish the time I still have as a fellow.  I wil go to my host sisters school play, and soak up every last moment with my host family.  I will go to concerts with my friends and sing at the top of my lungs.  I will take in every word of our next Scotty Smith lecture on Monday morning.  I will celebrate birthdays,enjoying the beauty of a warm spring day.  I will be content with uncertainty, and have hope for what the future holds.  I will cling to verses like Psalm 37.  Delighting in the Lord and reflecting on all of the times that he has blessed me when I least deserved it.  Finding peace in the fact that it's not up to me to have all of the answers.  Today I will wake up and do good work, be thankful, and never cease to pray.  

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Learning Self- Forgetfulness by Andy Moore

Throughout the fellows program, I have grown in numerous ways, but perhaps most pronounced would be my development in the ways of self-forgetfulness. A unique trait, and oft overlooked, it has paved the way forward into deeper contentment. Additionally, in the eyes of C.S. Lewis, this was a central element of humility, and I have found his assessment entirely correct. Instead of forcing yourself into a constricting moralism, you simply release your grip of yourself. I’ve found humility to be less about groveling and abasement, and more about divesting yourself of the role of judge and appraiser.

I’ve become far better at celebrating the abundance in my own life and it the lives of others through the practice, as difficult and unnatural as it has been, of self-forgetfulness. The other eight fellows have been fantastic examples in this regard, helping me to see value in each situation, each person, and pointing out things that I would have overlooked simply because I didn’t see them as worthy of mention. Because of their excellence in this, I’ve made a concerted effort to pay greater attention to details of every sort. People become far more interesting when you allow them to be. And I had been cheating myself out of the very intimacy I craved because I was demanding it without being responsible for the self-discipline and inner-transformation it requires, both to give myself freely to another, and to receive whatever response is given in return. It is hard to develop resilience and be prepared for any reaction, however unfavorable, but it is good. A note in my phone reads thus: “NOTICE AND COMPLIMENT”. Since I’ve felt so noticed, appreciated, and truly known, particularly by the fellows, it has become exhilarating to respond to them and everyone else in the same way. I look forward to discovering new things about them and am eager to speak it aloud.

Competition, though unfortunately still a common recourse, has lost the dominance it once had. When focused on myself, I have no choice but to connect every encounter, every conversation, to myself, and then leverage it for my benefit. As it happens, this creates a destabilizing restlessness that eclipses everything short of fervent praise for my accomplishments, meaning I’ll miss endless pieces of quality conversation that would undoubtedly enrich me. I couldn’t overhear anything without immediately processing it to see if it posed a threat to my standing, or if it would make achieving my goals, reaching my ends, more difficult. If so, I would be sent into a panic. If you have done this too, you know the exhaustion.

Discovering strength in social settings has come only through the rejection of my ego; truly, a death to the part of myself that insists on manipulation and self-promotion. It’s grueling to let it rule, and it’s antithetical to freedom. And the path to freedom is not easy. It takes more courage than I ever imagined to willfully forget about yourself, and then accept the possibility of everyone else forgetting you as well. That thought scares me more than almost anything in the world. So I’ve struggled with sweat and tears to make myself unforgettable. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. It’s a full-time job and more.

Though being utterly forgotten and abandoned by earthly companions is likely improbable and absurd for most, it raises an interesting question: were it so, would you trust the Master to break your fall and catch you? That degree of faith is required to be fully free of the despotism of self-absorption. That’s right, despotism. Though we endlessly look out for our own interests, presumably to better our situation, in the present and future, we are cruel to ourselves in how we pressure and constrict all inner-activity, funneling it through the narrow filter of selfishness. So much is lost: joy, peace, contentment, curiosity, empathy, etc. And we lose the delight of God.

There are enough task-masters out there to make me feel worthless and depressed as it is. I do not need to join them. To escape, you simply walk away. As Tim Keller has said, “Stop the game.” Don’t participate in the madness anymore. This is hard, I confess; perhaps even a lifelong endeavor. In grand terms, this process has been the lesson of refusing to justify myself. Keller, in describing the human ego, couldn’t have described my situation more accurately. He says the human ego is naturally empty, painful, busy and fragile.

That being so, I’m always trying to make up for something, to defend myself. The question and response that Keller offers is this: “’What am I doing in this courtroom?’ Court is adjourned.”

Furthermore, “the verdict was given before the performance.” So I can finally rest. I know who I am. I can accept being ignored or overlooked; it doesn’t crush me when I expected to be mentioned or invited or praised but wasn’t. I can join in the celebration of another and not wish to be in their place or steal their moment. I can even compliment others for things that they do better than me, things they will always do better than me, and not grow frustrated because I can’t match them.

When I think of – and meditate on and rehearse and preach to myself – the truth of the Gospel, there is no more room for self-pity, shame, distressed calculation or bitter conniving. Just rest, joy and a more authentic me.

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The Integrity of Our Faith by Jill Runser

One of my favorite things about this year has been the readings assigned for class and the subsequent conversations that flow from them. My weeks are colored with scenes such as: sitting at the Whole Foods coffee shop with Emily trying to wrap our minds around calvinism; walking at Percy Warner park with Lauren attempting to dissect our spiritual apathy; even conversing with a coworker about observing the Sabbath during school carpool duty. This year has become a year for me to soak up the wisdom of others, authors, pastors, fellows, etc. and to digest it with friends. It has allowed me to start filling in the holes of my theology I didn’t even know were there. To give you insight into what our Mondays are like, please enjoy this picture of our whiteboard after class on the New Testament with David Filson. My brain feels how these words look… Bonus points for anyone who can figure out which Greek word means “poop” and how it relates to Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians.

jills blog.jpg

But, I digress. Currently, we have begun reading The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin. For my blog I wanted to share a particular quote and my own personal thoughts that have been reverberating throughout my mind this week in the hopes that it will bring as fruitful a reflection and discussion for you as it has me:

“[The Christian tradition] has to be sustained in its integrity by the intellectual vigor and practical courage with which its members seek to be faithful to it-not by repeating past formulas but by courageously restating the tradition in the light of new experience.”

I have often found myself reflecting on the concept of biblical illiteracy this year. In the fall, I had talked about it with a friend and two days later both of our teachers threw out the phrase. Truly, I believe that our generation can be characterized with a more laissez faire approach to our faith. Too often, we claim Christianity and Christ, but we reject the conversations, the foundations, or the beliefs that seem to contradict society or our own personal desires out of fear of rejection or out of doubt in our own hearts. I have, however, also witnessed people swing to the other side, pushing beliefs aggressively at those who do not understand the Bible, Christianity, or the purpose for the laws God has provided us. Frankly, I understand how some may see the modern day church as a stuck up place with antiquated rules. I understand why my fellow “millenials” are weary of the church. What I have been piecing together this year, and what Newbigin states so profoundly, is the importance for us to not only be able to stand firm in our faith and relate the truth of God’s law to others, but to understand why we believe what we believe. On my way back to Nashville this past week I was listening to The Liturgist Podcast on this subject. Michael Gungor told a story about how a girl argued against evolution using the Bible, but when asked why she believed it, her argument was simply because the Bible says so. I think faith in God will always go beyond the tangible and understandable, but I also think it is important for us to engage in “intellectual vigor and practical courage” to understand and ascertain all that God has for us in truth and wisdom.

The point of us studying Scripture, listening to sermons, and reading books on theology are so we can be people who live our faith with integrity. I think the church can lack the discipline in Newbigin’s plea to restate the Christian tradition “in the light of new experience.” Sure, we understand that God has a plan and a way in which he has created people and the world to be so that it can produce the most fruit. Sure, we already trust that God is God, He is omnipotent and wants what’s best for us, and therefore his rules reign supreme. However, if we aren’t able to bring these truths into our cultural experiences, restating them for those in a certain context to understand why we think this way, then our efforts make no sense to others. We must show the integrity of our faith and how it stands the test of changing times where the belief that one sovereign Creator God exists is no longer held as the popular belief. I am excited that the Nashville Fellows Program is a community of people who does not want to shy away from these hard conversations. I am excited that we have differing opinions on many subjects! I am excited that we are a community who desires to delve into developing our understanding of who God is, what His Word says, and how we can practically live in light of His truths day by day. And, I am always excited for the next Monday!

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